It’s the Best State Fair in our State

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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My mom sounded a little like one of those carnival sideshow barkers as she opened the bedroom door to wake my brothers and me from our slumber; “hurry, hurry, hurry, come on boys..time to get up and a movin’. We don’t want to be late for the fair.”
It was still dark outside but my dad liked to get an early start for the 60 mile trip to Huron so we could get there in time to still catch breakfast at the Lutheran Dining Hall.
We had taken baths the night before so all we had to do was put on the new shirt and jeans mom had bought for us..brush our teeth and slather our heads with Brylcream so thick that some of it would come out in little white globs between the comb’s teeth  as we shaped our hair into a perfect wave in front and duck tail in  back. Then we’d all pile into our 53 Mercury and head west on highway 14. Dad always made pretty good time until Cavour when we’d start to catch up with cars filled with other excited families all headed in the same direction and to the same destination. (That was a long time ago.)
Even though it was still pretty early the guy directing traffic had us park in a lot that seemed like miles away from the action. “There’ll be a shuttle a long any minute,” he’d say. And, sure enough, here came a Farmall “M” tractor just like my Uncle Johnny’s, pulling two brightly painted trailers hooked together with lots of people sitting on permanently-attached bench seats. As we jumped aboard for our ride to the fairgrounds, mom reminded us all to not forget where the car was parked.
After waiting in line for a forgettable Lutheran breakfast, there was still more penance to be paid before my brothers and I could go off on our own and have some real fun.  Dad hadn’t farmed in years but still insisted we all tag along up and down machinery row to see the innovative marvels of agricultural engineering that would improve both the farmer’s quality of life and quantity of his harvest in this, the second half of the 20th century. Then, despite our grumbling and whining, it was off to the horticulture building to see this year’s winners of the biggest pumpkin, watermelon, squash or ear of corn contests.
Finally, with a stern warning about watching out for each other and being careful, our dad gave us a few bucks and set us free to the midway with strict orders to rendezvous at 3 by the circle of death (the guy who defied gravity riding a motorcycle inside what looked like half of a huge wooden barrel) so we could make the auto races at the grandstand.
Lured by the smell of cotton candy, caramel corn and boiling hot dogs, we hit the carnival and  just about every ride there..except that one with the rocket ship on each end. I just never trusted that thing.  I also didn’t like walking past the row of tents where all the games were. Greasy con men hollering..”hey kid, com’eer..throw the darts..break the balloons and win a teddy bear for that little girlfriend of yours. Step right up..only fifty cents.”  Only fifty cents? That was half of what Mr. Burg paid me to mow his lawn once a week. No thanks.
We also had to walk down sideshow row where sheets of of brightly painted canvas flapped in the wind with pictures of characters and creatures beyond our imagination. “Come right on in..see the two headed Aborigine..alive on the inside.” “The world’s largest anaconda captured alive in the jungles of Africa right here..right now..just 25 cents..on quarter of a dallah.” 
There were even some dirty sideshows allowed at the fair back then."Step right up, see Little Egypt and Pharaoh’s harem of harlots bare it all live on the inside.”I knew my big brother wanted to give in to the kind of temptations Mrs. Hesby had warned us about in Sunday School class. But if he went "inside" to satisfy his teenage lust, it would mean having to leave me and Tommy on the “outside” and we just wanted to get out of that evil place. Besides, if dad found out, he wouldn’t be going anywhere for a very long time.The fair finally banned shows like this but not beforea lot of us innocent little Lutherans got an eye-full in the 50’s.
So, it was one more ride on the tilt-a-whirl then off to meet up with the folks and head to the car races.  It was a steamy hot day and the grandstand was full of fans..many of whom had obviously not taken their baths the night before.I will remember the aroma of 5 thousand sweating people as much as I will the races that day.
As we were about to board the shuttle and head back to our car for the trip home, we noticed a big crowd had gathered around a little white open-sided trailer with a fat guy inside. He had a large microphone strapped around his neck and was making the most beautiful music that sounded like it was coming from a trumpet..a guitar..or a trombone.. yet there wasn’t an instrument in sight. Then he shared his secret. All those sounds were coming from a little round device in his mouth called a “Hum-A-Zoo!”  “Yes, folks, for only fifty cents you too can delight and amaze your friends and family,” the guy said. And before you can say “snake oil” people, including my dad, began reaching into their  pockets for a half a buck to buy one of these magical music makers.
On the road home, we all took a turn on the "Hum-A-Zoo trying to impersonate Harry James or the Dorsey Brothers like the big guy in the trailer did but what came out more closely resembled a swarm of buzzing bumble bees.
“It’ll just take some practice, I guess,” mom said as she put our “Hum-A-Zoo” back in the box and in her purse. I don’t remember ever seeing it again.

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